Happy Independence day. In Memphis, the local news crews requested that people not fire their guns into the air because the ammunition will ultimately come down somewhere. But I suppose that demographic wasn't watching the news and shot up the place anyway. A man ate some Bar-B-Que with his ex-girlfriend's family in Overton Park, then shot her and killed himself while children played nearby. A man was struck in the leg while mowing his yard, a mother and her young child were grazed by bullets as they celebrated in a downtown park, and my stepson, Cameron, and two of his friends were robbed at gunpoint in an elevator of the parking garage at Peabody Place. There were no security cameras present in the elevators or the garage. We are technologically able to watch a man on YouTube spend forty-eight hours in a New York office building elevator, but the proprietors of Peabody Place can't stick a security camera in the parking lot.
As usual, I wasn't going to answer the 1:30 AM call with the unknown number on the caller ID, until Cameron said, "If you're listening, pick up." He was unhurt physically, if not bruised morally, and was calling mainly to tell me to cut off the service to his stolen cell phone. He had no keys and needed to come by and asked me to tell his mother. I awoke Melody first with the news that he was safe, then filled in the details. I shared her outrage, doubly so, because this is the second time in two years that Cameron has had a gun pointed in his face.("Baghdad On the Mississippi;" 8/6/07). When Melody asked me the race of the gunman, I said, "Black." Only then, because I've somehow retained some semblance of sensitivity, did I realize that Cameron had never told me the armed robber's race, I had merely assumed he was black, and pointed out my own racial prejudices to my wife.
Of course, the gunman was black. There are no Caucasian armed robbers preying on innocent people who came downtown to see the fireworks and celebrate the Fourth. My black friends and acquaintances know that I am not one to launch into some quasi-racist tirade for two reasons; I would never say or write anything I would not comfortably discuss face to face, and I do not generalize. As part of a group that has been generalized about, I recognized that brand of foolishness long ago from being Jewish, and though anti-Semitism was never as virulent in the South as racial hatred, I understand the injustice of painting any group of people with so broad a brush as to deny individuality. Having said that, allow me to delve into a topic that may be none of my damn business; the crisis among young black men, and the affects on the larger community.
Cameron is of a group now called the "post-racial generation." While I never attended classes with anyone of a different race than me until I reached college, Cameron has always been part of a racially mixed social and scholastic group. He has as many black friends as white, and I can honestly say that even as a teenager, he was the least racially conscience person I'd ever met. So I asked him, "What is it? Is it a generational thing? Is it this insane "thug culture?" Cameron suggested people were getting held up when I was a kid, and I replied, "Never like this. There were never so many guns on the streets." The result is that Memphis ranks #1 in property crimes among major cities, and is among the top five cities in violent crime. Once gang free, Memphis is riddled with gangbangers killing each other and the occasional innocent child on the swing set.
Then Cameron made it plain for me by explaining that it is several decades of teenage mothers having babies that fall immediately adrift; homeless, helpless, aimless. It's too much drug abuse and pointless existences among young men that prefer to victimize others rather than gain for themselves. It's a gang mentality that stresses "revenge" as manly and studious pursuits as "white." But it's not so much a societal thing as just plain ignorance. Among an older generation of black people, there is great dismay and confusion that has been unreported by the media until only recently when certain famous celebrities spoke out. Even Jesse Jackson admitted to his own embarrassed relief, when he found the group of men that were walking behind him to be white and not black. Is it fair to blame the entertainment media's glorification of the "gangsta?" In my young days, we all watched "Shaft" and "Superfly," but it didn't cause a rash of young men to go out and become pimps and private dicks.
I have no answers. I only hope this violent era passes with the violence that provoked it. Sensible whites and blacks feel the same about this crisis that stares us in the face down the barrel of a gun. The handgun manufacturers and their enablers, like the Supreme Court, won't be satisfied until we're all sporting side holsters like in Old Dodge City. Then, by God, nobody dare tread on us. Or on our neighbors' yards either, as was the case in Texas last week when a man killed two men running from the house next door, and wasn't charged. This may mollify some, but I don't want to live this way. I told Cameron that perhaps the election of Barack Obama will inspire a new generation that doesn't want to live this way any longer either. He just said, "Don't count on it." Meanwhile, Cameron says he's, "outta' here. I'm going home." He is joining the Peace Corps, and by "home," he meant Mother Africa, where he has requested to be located. We hope he'll be safer there.